Round-up, 13 November 2012: Ballot Design, Accents, Trends, Why British Students Can’t Write, Sendak

Among the many angles in the coverage of last week’s US election, the story that fascinated me the most was ‘Ballot Design With Todd Oldham’ from the New York Times. The experts say maybe millions of votes have been lost over the years because of poor ballot design. And I had no idea that the Florida ballots with the hanging chads were such a MESS (I love their comparison!). Wow, typography is THAT important. I still find it horrifying that the world’s superpower’s voting systems are so inconsistent; surely this is too important for such variation to be permitted in things such as voting machines (paper vs electronic), in the ballot design? If this happened in the developing world, the righteous West would be crying outrage. I’m all for decentralisation, but this is chaos. Makeover time!

Talking of typography, enjoy the pleasures of calligraphy in this short film about designer and artist Seb Lester.

I’m experimenting with dictation software (Dragon on my iPad), so I found this story about Midlands accents confounding an expensive phone system at Birmingham City Council quite amusing.

From the Guardian: is crime fiction the new fashion in young adult fiction?

And from a blog I stumbled across, a good overview of trends in horror fiction.

From the American Reader, one of the more thoughtful pieces of coverage of the Penguin/Random House merger.

Which we are told is necessary to balance out the ever increasing powers of Amazon. Which doesn’t pay much tax either. I have found myself shopping at Amazon less and less this year. Okay, I might have to(?!) do my ebook of short stories there, and I am sure could save on various titles I might instead buy, e.g., at the Open Book in Richmond. But at what price: my soul, for a couple of tight-fisted quid, and crappier royalties to the writers? In you have any doubts, just watch the BBC coverage of the parliamentary grilling of the man from Amazon (he say no).

Just happened to watch The Young Apprentice candidates create cookbooks last week. Fun to see a primetime take on publishing, and I thought the kids did well (among the squabbling – some of the young women were notably obnoxious). The funniest moment for me was when the Waterstone’s buyer got so defensive about a seventeen-year-old saying their customers were middle-class. Out of the mouths of babes. But also: if you want to publish, learn to spell, or at least find someone who can.

Talking of, an oldie I recently came across: Sarah Churchwell asks in the Independent why British students can’t write like Americans. Duh, because they’re not taught how to?! Just saying. Sarah, I share your outrage. A North American correspondent points out that Americans can’t write either. Well, you can’t make it learn, but you can at least take a horse to water.

But what if the wells of academia are dry? Universities are so concerned with learning outcomes and maximising impacts and institutional targets that sometimes you wonder where teaching fits in. In the Guardian Andrew Motion attacks the government’s mercantile attitude to universities, and it’s not before time. It’s not just the government; it’s often the universities themselves too that prize the values of the market over the ideals of learning. Also from the THE is the original article launching the Council for the Defence of British Universities. Good luck to them.

Finally, the Believer interview with Maurice Sendak is super. His cranky comments about the death of publishing and the evil of ebooks were taken out of context all over. Read at the source; any curmudgeonliness must be experienced in the larger space of that rich, intelligent, funny voice.